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Marilu Henner returns to “Noises Off!” and the Bucks County Playhouse stage


What are those noises off in the direction of the Bucks County Playhouse?

Could be the applause for the zany zig-zagging of the newly staged “Noises Off!” playwright Michael Frayn’s 1982 farce of nature about a theater troupe that doesn’t know its exit left from its right.

Or maybe it’s for the stellar comedic cast that doesn’t miss a step in essaying a misstepping ensemble in this ever-so-playful play-within-a-play.

Merrily, Marilu Henner can handle it all. Smart and smashing at 72 — Henner apparently has found the Fountain of Youth which evaded Ponce de Leon for so long — she has an artful agility and ageless inquisitiveness that invigorates the roles she takes, whether among the 100 movies or countless TV series to her credit.

Indeed, this Renaissance woman of robust talents and roaring resume has a handle on the hysterics on stage: It’s all familiar territory for the acclaimed actress who starred in the same dual stage roles (Belinda/Flavia) in the 1992 film adaptation of “Noises Off!”

And as familiar as she is with the parts, she is as seduced by the sylvan setting of the historic stage that she has stepped on a handful of times in the past, including in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” and “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.”

Nothing to sneeze at with those achievements.

“There’s something magical about it,” says Henner of the arcadian area in which she taps her talent these days. “I feel so grateful to be there, to be in this show at the playhouse. It’s a very special place.”

Henner is a longtime member of the theater’s board of trustees.

Indeed, “Noises Off!” is an ideal vehicle for her.

And this actress knows her vehicles. After all, it was TV’s “Taxi” (1978-82 on ABC; 1983 on NBC) that picked up a young, yearning actress from Chicago with a flair for funny and delivered her to Hollywood, Broadway and beyond with a serious career intact.

It was a wonderful comedic cab ride, she recalls, in which she fared well as a performer (a gilded fistful of Golden Globe nominations for her role as Elaine Nardo) and person, forming lifelong bonds with a top-tier cast (Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Andy Kaufman, Carol Kane, the late Jeff Conaway; and Christopher Lloyd) that put the snark in the snafu-laden Sunshine Cab Company.

“And we’re about to do our 21st ‘Taxi’ Zoom gathering,” she says.

“Zoom” is how her career went early on — even if her initial decision to give life the old college try mattered more at first.

“I was offered an audition” — and a guaranteed role — “in the original production of ‘Grease,’ but turned it down,” she said. “It mattered more that I remain doing what I did, being a student at the University of Chicago.”

But then she had second thoughts: “I was walking by the school with my books, looked at the building, then, suddenly, jumped in my car, threw the books on the seat and headed to the airport for that audition.”

She nabbed the part of an original Pink Lady on tour alongside her soon-to-be best-bud, John Travolta.

“I always knew I wanted to do a lot in life,” said the actress-singer-dancer-author-talk-show host-entrepreneur.

Indeed, Henner was raised with the belief that raising one’s own expectations was the way to build a better self.

One of six kids, little Marilu marveled at the way her mom was, indeed, the mother of invention.

“She turned our home into a dance academy, with some 200 students, including myself,” Henner recalled. “She ran a beauty parlor from the kitchen, with a blow dryer plugged in near the sink.”

Young Marilu had a lot of role models from which to choose. For Nardo on “Taxi,” she turned to one of her sisters. But for Belinda in “Noises Off!”, “I use myself,” a reliable type with a great head on her shoulders.

And she certainly stands head and shoulders above others when it comes to memory. Henner is one of fewer than 100 people globally blessed with a highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM).

But she’s already creating future memories alongside her husband, Michael Brown (“my third — and last —husband!” she promises with a laugh) and enjoying the success of her kids, filmmaker Nick Lieberman (“Theater Camp,” the mockumentary) and Joey Lieberman, who has put his imprimatur on the improv movement with the Obsessed With Us troupe.

Over here, in Bucks, she is not far from one of her early stage assignments.

“Can you believe it?” she says recalling “Over Here!” and her part 50 years ago in the pre-Broadway tryout of the Andrews Sisters (Patty and Maxene) musical, that stopped off in Philadelphia before boogie-woogying its way up the turnpike to New York.

And right now, there’s the hum of rehearsals for “Noises Off!” in the distance.

Of course, a taxi awaits Henner to bring her to the playhouse, right?

“Uber,” she says, reflecting how such a wonderful master of memories is able to control her ride through the here and now, always gearing up for the future.

Michael Elkin is a playwright, theater critic and novelist who lives in Abington. He writes columns about theater and the arts.

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